Dips

Ricotta

I’ve bought my fair share of ricotta in my time from my local grocery store.

It’s good enough, especially since most of the time I’m simply folding it into lemon ricotta pancakes for Sunday breakfast.

The first time I had really good ricotta was at Corso 32 in Edmonton. House-made from goat milk, it had been slathered thickly onto slabs of toasted bread, then drizzled with oil and sprinkled with crunchy flakes of salt.

It was the perfect start to dinner with a group of friends I don’t get to see often enough.

On my next trip to Edmonton, I had barely walked through the front door of my friend’s house before she announced that our project for that afternoon – in advance of friends coming for dinner – was to make homemade ricotta.

The recipe was laughably easy: heat milk, add lemon juice, watch it curdle and then strain.

And yet it was unexpectedly exciting to watch the curds and whey separate with just a bit of acid thrown into the mix. Even more pleasing to unfold the cheesecloth after the whey had drained away from the curds and see the mound of thick, creamy ricotta.

(Check out the post Katherine did over here, complete with action photos.)

That recipe was good – we ate pretty much all of it that night, on toasted baguette with glasses of wine in hand, some olives and slices of prosciutto – but I’ve since found one that is made even more decadent with the addition of a full cup of whipping cream.

Technically, this may not be considered real ricotta, which in Italian means “twice cooked” and is made from whey – the byproduct of making other cheeses. But, when searching for ricotta recipes, almost all now use this method of adding an acid – lemon juice or vinegar – to heated milk (or a combination of milk and cream) and then straining off the curds.

(There are also a million variations, using more or less milk and cream, using different ratios of acid or using vinegar instead of lemon juice.)

Simple science, but it’s kind of like food magic.

The taste is also like food magic: rich and creamy, smooth and luxurious – a recipe that’s end belies how little effort went in.

Serve this on slices of toasted bread drizzled with honey or some extra virgin olive oil. Grind on cracked pepper or stir in herbs.

Use in recipes that call for ricotta. Or simply eat it plain.
Ricotta draining

Ricotta and baguette

Ricotta

This comes from Smitten Kitchen, which suggest a ½ cup of whipping cream if a full cup is too much, just be sure to make up the difference with whole milk.

  • 3 cups ( 750 mL) whole milk (3.25 per cent)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) coarse sea salt
  • 3 tbsp (50 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a large pot, mix together milk, cream and salt. Heat until the mixture reaches 190 F, stirring every so often to keep it from burning. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir, gently, once or twice and then let sit for 5 minutes to let the curds and whey separate.

Line a large sieve or colander with two or three layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Pour the mixture into the sieve and let it strain for at least an hour or more, depending on how firm you like it. (I stopped draining mine around 1 hour and 15 minutes.) It will also firm up more once refrigerated.

Eat immediately or put in an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes little more than one cup (250 mL).

Pesto

The smell of basil is the smell of summer.

basil

And not just because it is readily available in the months when the sun is out more often than not and the days are long.
It’s also because I will forever associate the smell of basil with my grandfather and summer afternoons in his studio when we would make pesto.

Pesto

He had a greenhouse that somehow managed to produce a never-ending supply of this fragrant herb. (Along with peppers and tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes. I loved eating them when their skins were still warm from being inside the hothouse; their taste was unparalleled.) So pesto was not just a treat that could be made with basil, it was a way of harvesting and putting to use mass quantities of the stuff.

The remaining ingredients, he always had on hand. Heads of papery garlic always sat in a bowl on the work table that separated the kitchen from the rest of the studio. Parsley was harvested from a large pot on the front deck. As a man who wished he was Italian, olive oil and parmesan were always part of the pantry.

He would store the pesto in baby jars in the freezer, sending a few home with me at the end of my visits to the island.

I started making my own pesto a couple of years ago, though in infinitely smaller batches since I have no garden nor greenhouse and must depend on the bags of basil from the farmer’s market. But I, like him, freeze what I don’t think I’ll quickly consume. Then, in the depths of winter, when the sun goes down before I get home from work and the wind can chill me to the bones, I can pull it out. I add it to soups or pasta sauces or cook it with a little cream and pour over pasta with a fresh few grates of Parmesan. In these small ways, I bring back the summer, and the smells and sounds of being with my grandfather.

Olive Oil

Parmesan

Pesto pre-blending

Pesto II

There are a million variations on pesto recipes. This is one I like, which I adapted from two recipes.

Pesto

  • 2 cups packed basil
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch or two pepper (I just do a few grinds)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor. Blitz two or three times to get it going, then turn on and let run while drizzling oil in. Stop when all the oil is incorporated but before it gets too thin. I like mine to still have a slightly chunky feel to it.

Guacamole

When the cravings for Guacamole come, they must be answered.

I love avocados. The pale green flesh, the rich buttery taste, the thwack sound the pit makes when I hit it with my knife. I like it sliced in salads or spread between two pieces of buttered toast with a little salt and pepper. But I really love it in guacamole with a handful of salty chips on the side.

The Ingredients

Sure, it’s high in fat, but I’m slightly mollified by the fact it’s a good fat and there are lots of vitamins and potassium in avocados. I also need that information to justify my decision to eat guacamole for dinner. (It’s flimsy justification, but justification nonetheless.)

The Ingredients

I like to make mine by cubing the avocados while still in their skins and then scooping the chunks out with a spoon before gently stirring with the other ingredients, so the meaty fruit retains some of its bite instead of becoming a paste. (You’ll see below that the instructions are slightly different. Obviously, do as you feel is best.)

Dicing the avocado

Red Onion

Ready to serve

It should come as no surprise that this recipe comes from my mentor, the Barefoot Contessa.

Guacamole

  • Four ripe Haas avocados (I just buy whatever is in the store)
  • 3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice — one lemon
  • 8 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced (I use a rasp — best kitchen gadget ever — so there are no large chunks of garlic)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and small-diced

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. (I use my hands.) Immediately add the lemon juice, Tabasco, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.